Endoplasmic Reticulum: Structure and Function

Endoplasmic Reticulum
The endoplasmic reticulum plays an important role in the biosynthesis, processing, and transport of proteins and lipids. Credit: Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG/Getty Images

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is an important organelle in eukaryotic cells. It plays a major role in the production, processing, and transport of proteins and lipids. The ER produces transmembrane proteins and lipids for its membrane and many other cell components including lysosomes, secretory vesicles, the Golgi appatatus, the cell membrane, and plant cell vacuoles.

Key Takeaways

  • A cell's endoplasmic reticulum (ER) contains a network of tubules and flattened sacs. The ER performs multiple functions in both plant and animal cells.
  • Endoplasmic reticulum has two major regions: smooth endoplasmic reticulum and rough endoplasmic reticulum. Rough ER contains attached ribosomes while smooth ER does not.
  • Via the attached ribosomes, rough endoplasmic reticulum synthesizes proteins via the translation process. Rough ER also manufactures membranes.
  • Smooth endoplasmic reticulum serves as a transitional area for transport vesicles. It also functions in carbohydrate and lipid synthesis. Cholesterol and phospholipids are examples.
  • Rough and smooth ER are typically connected to one another so that the proteins and membranes made by the rough ER can freely move into the smooth ER for transport to other parts of the cell.

The endoplasmic reticulum is a network of tubules and flattened sacs that serve a variety of functions in plant and animal cells.

The two regions of the ER differ in both structure and function. Rough ER has ribosomes attached to the cytoplasmic side of the membrane. Smooth ER lacks attached ribosomes. Typically, the smooth ER is a tubule network and the rough ER is a series of flattened sacs.

The space inside of the ER is called the lumen. The ER is very extensive extending from the cell membrane through the cytoplasm and forming a continuous connection with the nuclear envelope. Since the ER is connected with the nuclear envelope, the lumen of the ER and the space inside the nuclear envelope are part of the same compartment.

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

The rough endoplasmic reticulum manufactures membranes and secretory proteins. The ribosomes attached to the rough ER synthesize proteins by the process of translation. In certain leukocytes (white blood cells), the rough ER produces antibodies. In pancreatic cells, the rough ER produces insulin.

The rough and smooth ER are usually interconnected and the proteins and membranes made by the rough ER move into the smooth ER to be transferred to other locations. Some proteins are sent to the Golgi apparatus by special transport vesicles. After the proteins have been modified in the Golgi, they are transported to their proper destinations within the cell or exported from the cell by exocytosis.

Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum

The smooth ER has a wide range of functions including carbohydrate and lipid synthesis. Lipids such as phospholipids and cholesterol are necessary for the construction of cell membranes. Smooth ER also serves as a transitional area for vesicles that transport ER products to various destinations.

In liver cells the smooth ER produces enzymes that help to detoxify certain compounds. In muscles the smooth ER assists in the contraction of muscle cells, and in brain cells it synthesizes male and female hormones.

Eukaryotic Cell Structures

The endoplasmic reticulum is only one component of a cell. The following cell structures can also be found in a typical animal eukaryotic cell:

  • Centrioles: cylindrical groupings of microtubules found in animal cells but not plant cells. They help to organize spindle fibers during cell division.
  • Chromosomes: genetic material consisting of DNA and formed from condensed chromatin.
  • Cilia and flagella: protrusions from a cell that aid in movement and cellular locomotion.
  • Cell membrane: a thin, semi-permeable membrane that surrounds the cytoplasm and encloses the contents of a cell. It protects the integrity of the interior of the cell.
  • Cytoskeleton: a network of fibers throughout the cytoplasm that helps support the cell and aids in organelle movement.
  • Golgi Complex: composed of groupings of flattened sacs known as cisternae, the Golgi generates, processes, stores, and ships cellular products.
  • Lysosomes: membrane-bound sacs of enzymes that digest cellular macromolecules.
  • Mitochondria: organelles that provide energy for the cell by performing cellular respiration.
  • Nucleus: houses chromosomes and controls cell growth and reproduction.
  • Peroxisomes: tiny structures that detoxify alcohol and use oxygen to break down fats.
  • Ribosomes: organelles responsible for protein assembly and production via translation.
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Your Citation
Bailey, Regina. "Endoplasmic Reticulum: Structure and Function." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/endoplasmic-reticulum-373365. Bailey, Regina. (2020, August 26). Endoplasmic Reticulum: Structure and Function. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/endoplasmic-reticulum-373365 Bailey, Regina. "Endoplasmic Reticulum: Structure and Function." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/endoplasmic-reticulum-373365 (accessed March 21, 2023).

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